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The six best fake tans for older skin

05 August 2015 ( 06 July 2021 )

Now that sunbathing’s deemed a health risk, is it possible to fake a golden, natural-looking tan that flatters older skin? Vicci Bentley can barely believe her eyes.

Smilling mature woman wearing fake tan
Get beach ready with a natural-looking fake tan

Call me old-fashioned, but isn’t there something a bit hen-partyish about fake tan? You know, all bunny ears and streaky, Tangoed limbs – not the chicest look. But there again, neither are blotchy, pasty legs. Once the tights are off, something to temper the blue tinge wouldn’t go amiss. Is there a grown-up compromise?

‘A healthy-looking golden glow gives me extra confidence. I look good, so I feel great,’ encourages Hilary McMurray, 57-year-old co-founder of He-Shi Professional Tanning, which incorporates moisture-rich ingredients crucial for natural results on older, drier skin. ‘There’s no age limit to these feel-good benefits’, she claims, and I’m inclined to believe she’s right.

A subtle and gradual tan 

Self-tan brands such as Hilary’s have finally realised that subtle is best. ‘Gradual’ is the byword for natural-looking success, especially for pale skins at most risk of the less than elegant, melting-chocolate-orange look.

Lighter formulas with low-level DHA (the sugar-derived ingredient that reacts with proteins in the skin surface to turn it brown) are ideal for ‘tan virgins’ like me, Hilary says. They enhance the skin’s natural tone and it’s easy to build them up should you wish. But the best news? They’re less likely to leave that sour, burnt biscuit smell.

For best results, get prepping. Exfoliate first – especially round knees, elbows and heels – to shift dead cells, leaving skin softer, smoother and more able to ‘hold’ a tan. Apply the product in smooth, circular sweeps with a tanning mitt (try Boots Soltan Mitt, £3.99) to work it into crinkles and crannies. ‘Start slowly; a small amount at first is best,’ Hilary advises.

Skin damage and how to avoid it

Moisturising daily also prolongs your tan and encourages an even wear-off, too. But remember, fake tans afford zero protection against skin damage and worse. If you want to prevent your age spots darkening, wear at least SPF30 with an extra UVA shield. There’s evidence that sunscreen can prevent squamous cell carcinoma and actinic keratoses – the skin cancers and their precursors most likely to show up in 60-plus skin – from developing.

I’m slightly amazed to report that for the first time in years, I’m successfully faking it. Ingenious new ways of application are helping – He-Shi’s overnight balm, for example, is as easy to use as night cream and St Tropez’s shower lotion is an utter revolution. Not ready to commit? There’s now a wealth of airy-light powder bronzers (you know the drill – dust where the sun hits on cheeks, temples and forehead) and instant body sprays (lifesavers for legs!) that give your skin a healthy glow, then simply wash off. Someone told me that I look well these days, so I’m hooked now.

Read more about moisturiser here

Six of the best 

1.) St Tropez Gradual Tan In Shower Lotion, £14.50. How did we ever live without this? Slather it all over damp skin in the shower, wait three minutes (the hardest part), then rinse off. In a couple of hours your limbs will be a streakless pale gold.

2.) He-Shi Overnight Ageless Tanning Balm, £22.50. Used instead of night cream, antioxidants and moisturisers firm and smooth skin, while self-tanner gives it a subtle, golden glow.

3.) Time Bomb Holiday In A Bottle in Sunkissed, £28. Whitish fluid turns bronze on skin, then blends to a healthy-looking sheer honey finish. It’s wash-off, so you really can’t go wrong.

4.) Guerlain My Terracotta in 02 Natural Blondes, £40. Moisturising, soft golden finish ideal for pale skins. Dust lightly all over or on cheeks, temples and forehead.

5.) Bioderma Photoderm AR SPF50+, £15.80. Soothing high protection for sensitive, rosacea-prone skin. This non-greasy tinted cream is a great base for make-up, too.

6.) Spray On Tights Body Foundation, £21. Silky ‘airbrush’ foundation that helps cover veins and blotches, but won’t rub off on clothes. A real leg-saver.

Tips for preparing your body before applying fake tan

  • Exfoliate the day before you apply your fake tan as this gets rid of any dead skin cells providing an even canvas for tan application.
  • Do not apply to freshly waxed skin – leave for a day at least.
  • It’s better, however, to shave on the day for a neat result. Then really slather on the moisturiser making sure you use one that’s fragrance- and colour-free as perfumes and colours can interfere with the colour of the tan.
  • Pay particular attention to knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, feet and hands and anywhere where you skin might be suffering from dryness.
  • Choose a self tanning product that has plenty of moisturising properties so that the skin doesn’t dry out whilst the colour develops.

Step-by-step guide to a streak-free tan

  • Always wear gloves to apply the tan and put a mitt on top for clean, non-streaky finish. Apply the product in stages.
  • Work from your feet upwards and do your arms last. Be careful around the tricky bits such as between your toes and ankles and underarms.
  • When fake tanning your face go for a shade lighter. Open pores and spots can be highlighted by a fake tan leaving you looking blotchy. Running an ice cube over your face before application will seal and close pores whilst a lick of moisturiser over spots will prevent product build-up.

Fake tan aftercare tips

  • Let the fake tan dry, guided by how long the instructions say and try not to get wet or sweat for a least six hours after application.
  • ust because you’ve applied your fake tan successfully don’t think you can just leave it at that. You still need to look after your tan even though it’s fake.
  • Make sure you moisturise daily which will prolong the colour and exfoliate every three to four days to ensure your tan fades evenly.
  • Don’t be tempted to fake it more than twice a week as product build-up will lead to a nasty-looking tan. If you just want a subtle glow then add a blob of fake tan to your daily moisturiser. In fact, you can even buy body moisturisers that contain just that. Brands like Dove are easy to find and inexpensive.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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